March 2. In a landmark trial at the Paris Children's Court, a 17-year-old Turkish jihadist, identified only as Yussuf K., was sentenced to seven years in prison for attacking Benjamin Amsellem, a Jewish teacher in Marseille, with a machete. Yussuf K. said he carried out the January 2016 attack "in the name of Allah and the Islamic State." He added that he chose his victim because "he was Jewish." Yussuf K. was charged with "an individual terrorist attempt and attempted assassination in connection with a terrorist enterprise," with the aggravating circumstance of anti-Semitism. He was tried as a minor because he was 15 when he carried out the attack. The criminal trial of a minor on terror charges was the first of its kind in France, where some fifty children are currently being investigated for jihadist offenses.
March 2. The European Parliament voted to lift the immunity from prosecution for National Front leader Marine Le Pen for tweeting images of Islamic State violence. Under French law, publishing violent images can be punished by up to three years in prison and a fine of €75,000 euros ($79,000). Le Pen, a leading candidate in this year's French presidential election, posted the images in response to a journalist who compared her party's anti-immigration stance to the Islamic State. Le Pen denounced the legal proceedings against her as political interference in the campaign and called for a moratorium on judicial investigations until the election period has passed.
March 4. The mayor of the French port of Calais, Natacha Bouchart, signed a decree prohibiting aid groups from distributing meals to migrants and refugees at the site of the former "Jungle" migrant camp. The decree said food distribution by charities had led to large numbers of people gathering at the site of the now-closed camp, with fights breaking out and risks posed to the safety of local residents.
March 6. President François Hollande vowed to "do everything in his power" to prevent Marine Le Pen from winning the upcoming presidential election in France. Polls have suggested that Le Pen, leader of the National Front party, may win the first round of France's election on April 23. Le Pen, who has campaigned on an anti-immigration platform, has also vowed to hold a referendum on France's membership of the European Union. Hollande, who decided not to run for a second term, said it was his "ultimate duty to do everything to ensure that France is not convinced by such a plan" to take France out of the EU.
March 7. The 17th Criminal Tribunal of Paris acquitted the Moroccan-born French-Jewish scholar Georges Bensoussan of hate speech charges. The Collective against Islamophobia in France (Collectif Contre l'Islamophobie en France, CCIF) filed a lawsuit against Bensoussan, 64, for "public incitement to discrimination, hatred and violence against a group of people because of their religious affiliation" because of remarks he made on Radio France about Muslim anti-Semitism. He said:
"There will be no integration until we get rid of this atavistic anti-Semitism that is kept secret. It so happens that an Algerian sociologist, Smain Laacher, with great courage said that 'it is a disgrace to maintain this taboo, namely that in Arab families in France and elsewhere everyone knows that anti-Semitism is spread with the mother's milk.'"
In its ruling, the court said the plaintiffs failed to prove the charges of hate speech: "Bensoussan cannot be blamed to have aroused or wished to arouse a feeling of hostility or rejection against a group of persons and, even less, to have explicitly called for specific acts against the group." The judges added that the expression "anti-Semitism, it is sucked with the mother's milk" is a figure of speech, not the expression of "biological racism."
March 12. Mohammad Khan Wazir, a 30-year-old migrant from Afghanistan, was sentenced by the Criminal Court of Grasse (Alpes-Maritimes) to 18 months in prison for threatening to assassinate the city's judges. Wazir was visiting his three-year-old son, named Djihad (the French word for "jihad"), whom judges placed under state care in Grasse, when he allegedly said that he wanted to "go to court with a Kalashnikov to kill them all." After Wazir left Afghanistan in 2007, he met a French woman named Claire Khacer. The couple separated after the birth of their child in 2013. Khacer, who is pregnant with the child of an Islamic State jihadist, was arrested after returning to France from Syria. She is being held on charges of conspiring to join a terrorist enterprise. In court, Wazir admitted to threatening the judges. He said was he was "overwhelmed" by the slow pace of the French bureaucracy. His French-born son still does not have a French passport.
March 13. Sonia Imloul, a 43-year-old activist and the former head of a deradicalization program, was found guilty by the Paris Criminal Court of embezzling and laundering public funds. She was accused of misusing the €60,000 ($65,000) which the French Interior Ministry gave her association, the House of Prevention and the Families (Maison de la prévention et de la familles), for the purpose of discouraging French Muslims from going to Iraq and Syria. She received a four-month suspended prison sentence and was ordered to pay €25,000. The conviction, which came after Julien Revial, a student employed by Imloul, wrote a book exposing her scam, has highlighted the failure of the French government's deradicalization efforts.
March 15. Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux said that French security forces would begin dismantling the Grande-Synthe migrant camp on the northern coast near the port of Dunkirk "as soon as possible" after violent clashes at the site. The number of people at the camp has swelled to 1,500 since the destruction of the "Jungle" camp near Calais, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) away. The Grande-Synthe camp, populated mostly by Kurds, was built to house migrants and refugees who otherwise sleep in tents or makeshift shelters. They gather along the northern coast of France trying to break into trucks heading to Britain or trying to pay smugglers to help them get across the Channel.
March 16. An Ifop poll found that 71% of French people believe the security situation in France has deteriorated during the past five years; 93% believe the terrorist threat remains high; 60% said they do not feel safe anywhere in the country; and 69% believe there are not enough police and gendarmes. The poll also found that 88% support deporting foreigners convicted of serious crimes, and 81% support terminating social assistance to parents of repeat offenders.
March 17. A 30-year-old Muslim man yelling "Allahu Akhbar" slit the throats of his father and brother in the courtyard of their apartment building in Paris. Police said the dead men were found lying on the ground in pools of blood. Neighbors said the suspect had recently become radicalized and that his family was not happy about it. Police quickly dismissed terrorism as a motive for the crime; instead, they focused on "double intrafamilial homicide" in the context of "radicalization." The suspect was arrested and transferred to a psychiatric ward.
March 17. Presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the Left Party, proposed a solution to the debate over sharia-compliant meals in French schools. He said that vegetarian menus without meat in school canteens would answer both religious and ecological questions:
"You do not have meat, you can do without it. There's no need to eat meat all the time. When I was a kid, a lot of my friends were not eating pork because of their religion. We have to find a way that makes it possible for everyone to live well together. So, I would like to have vegetarian menus, menus without meat. There are other sources of protein besides meat. When you're at school, if there's a problem, go smile, vegetarian menus for everyone."
March 18. Ziyed Ben Belgacem, a 39-year-old French national of Tunisian origin, was shot dead at Paris Orly airport, the second-busiest airport in France, after grabbing a soldier's gun, and apparently intending to open fire on passengers. He shouted: "Put down your guns. Put your hands on your head. I am here to die for Allah. In any case, there will be deaths." Police said that Belgacem, who was born in Paris, was a "radicalized Muslim" who was known to the intelligence services. He was a career criminal with a long history of violence, robbery and drug offenses but despite his being investigated as a potential jihadist, Belgacem did not have an "S" file (Fiche "S" or Sûreté de l'État (state security), which flags individuals suspected of belonging to terrorist groups).
March 20. A confidential police report revealed that more than 50 organizations in Molenbeek, a migrant-dominated neighborhood of Brussels, Belgium, are believed to have ties to jihadist terrorism. More than 70 individuals are currently being monitored for suspected connections to jihadism. Most (46) reside in Belgium, while 26 are thought to be in Syria. Twenty people on the list are currently in prison. Counter-terrorism police have visited 8,603 homes and monitored 22,668 residents in Molenbeek, or one quarter of all of its inhabitants.
March 20. French Muslims between the ages of 14 and 16 are far more likely than non-Muslims to hold to "religious absolutism" and be "tolerant of taking violent action for ideological reasons" than non-Muslims, according to a survey of radicalism among French high school students. The study, carried out by the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), showed that "the dissemination of radical ideas in religious matters is approximately three times stronger among young Muslims than in the sample as a whole" and especially among boys (two times more often than girls). Nearly one-third (32%) of Muslim youth believe it is "acceptable in some cases to fight arms for their religion in today's society" compared to 8% of young people in general.
March 22. An Ipsos poll for France Television and Radio France found that 61% of the French believe that Islam is incompatible with French society, compared to 17% who believe the same is true for Judaism and 6% for Catholicism. Most respondents strongly endorsed proposals regulating Islam in the private sphere: 79% favor banning the veil in universities and 77% prohibiting the burkini in public spaces. An extremely large majority of the French (90%) believe that secularism is an essential value of the Republic, and 74% think it is threatened today (92% of Marine Le Pen's supporters feel this way). A majority of the French (60%) believe that the cohabitation between different religions does not happen well in France (85% of Marine Le Pen's supporters feel this way).
March 22. In an interview with De Morgen to mark the first anniversary of the jihadist attacks in Brussels, Mayor Yvan Mayeur warned: "Everyone knows that all mosques in Brussels are in the hands of Salafists. We need to change this, we need new mosques that follow our democratic rules and that are being controlled by the government." Salafists say they want to replace Western democracy with an Islamic government based on Sharia law.
The Collective against Islamophobia in Belgium (CTIB) condemned the mayor's remarks: "Those statements are very serious, manifestly incorrect and totally unacceptable from the mouth of a political representative of a cosmopolitan city such as Brussels."
Mayeur later called for a "mosque planting strategy" based on the "church plant model." This would give the government more control over what is preached inside the mosques. In an interview with the French-speaking RTBF radio, he said:
"I want a moderate Islam in Brussels. I have regular contact with two groups of people who want to build a mosque and who want to follow the standards in exchange for government support. I suggest that the government participates in the financing and control, a bit along the lines of the model of the church councils."
March 25. French anti-terrorism judges charged two men suspected of involvement in supplying a weapon to the gunman killed at Paris's Orly airport on March 18 after seizing the weapon of a soldier. The suspects, aged 30 and 43, were charged for "association with terrorist criminals."
March 29. Flanders, one of three official regions of Belgium, announced that it will impose new restrictions on the ritual slaughter of animals. As of January 1, 2019, all sheep will have to be stunned before they are slaughtered. The restrictions, which will eventually also apply to cattle, have been criticized by Muslim and Jewish groups as conflicting with their religious tenets.
March 30. The French Council of the Muslim Faith (Conseil français du culte musulman, CFCM), the official interlocutor between the French state and the country's Muslim community, in a bid to curb radical Islam, published a 12-point charter regarding the role of imams in society. The document, which all practicing imams will be encouraged to sign, recognizes the values of the French Republic and promotes tolerant Islam. The charter has been rejected by some of the biggest Muslim organizations in France, including the Grand Mosque of Paris and the Union of French Islamic Organizations (UOIF).
March 31. Up to a thousand Muslims rolled out rugs and prayed on the streets of Clichy, a northern suburb of Paris, to protest the closure of a mosque on rue Estienne-d'Orves. The mosque was shuttered after its lease expired and the municipality voted to turn the building into a library. Up to 5,000 worshippers prayed at the facility every day. City officials say that Muslims can worship at a new mosque that was inaugurated in May 2016. Muslims say the alternative facility is too small and remote.
Up to a thousand Muslims prayed on the streets of Clichy, a suburb of Paris, on March 31, to protest the closure of a local mosque; its lease had expired. (Image source: LDC News video screenshot)